Two Cents Prays for JUST MERCY

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick:

Black lives matter.

It is shameful that such a statement even needs to be reaffirmed in this day and age, but we will continue to state it openly and proudly from now until this mission towards true equal and equitable treatment under the law is achieved for all people.

It is a mission undertaken by countless generations of American men and women, striving against every barrier of both institutional and personal bigotry in ways both of mass unrest and demonstration, and in the quiet, tireless processes of law and governance.

Just Mercy is, at first glance, about the fight for the life of one man. Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx) waits on death row to be executed for a murder he could not possibly have committed. He spent a year on death row before his trial even took place. McMillian’s case is reopened when idealistic Harvard Law grad Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) arrives in Alabama and notices a number of discrepancies in the case.

But the effort to save ‘Johnny D.’ embodies the battle for true justice for not only one falsely-accused black man, but all black persons who are at risk of being chewed up and spit out by a system that is at best disinterested, and at worst actively antagonistic and spiteful. The more injustice Bryan uncovers, the more the system pushes back against him to reassert its right to punish, discriminate, and yes even kill whoever it sees fit.

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Just Mercy was released theatrically in December 2019. In light of the current galvanized international public discourse surrounding institutional injustice, specifically that targeted against black Americans, Warner Bros. has made the film widely accessible for free across multiple streaming platforms.

Next Week’s Pick

A whodunnit like no one’s every done it, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was a word-of-mouth hit last fall, sneaking into November and winning over audiences with its twisting plot, star-studded cast, loopy humor, and a sweater game that is ON. POINT.

Knives Out is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

The Team

Justin Harlan:

Just Mercy is a fantastic film, due in large part to the story it is telling. It’s an important story that needed to be told in a bug and powerful way. The true story is one that set off a chain of events and opened the eyes of many, but clearly more eyes still needed to be opened. Illuminating that story is a necessary step in opening more eyes and more hearts. This film does just that.

So many of us are blind to the realities of systemic racism. We often think these things can’t hurt us or we simply don’t think of these things at all. Just Mercy forces us to look at this.

From a filmmaking standpoint, it’s well written, well shot, and features stellar performances. Coupling the strength of this film’s technical aspects with this story presents a total package that is a must-see. Period. Watch this film… and then watch it again. (@thepaintedman)

Brendan Foley:

Destin Daniel Cretton has directed two films prior to this one. Short Term 12 is a miraculous little drama that quietly accumulates power while building towards a soul-cleansing finish. The Glass Castle is a movie so bad it makes me judge him negatively as a human being.

So this could have gone either way.

Just Mercy hews closer to the former than the later. At times it threatens to be so earnest as to become airless, and Cretton feels the need to underline every possibly interesting small human moment with dialogue pointing it out to you, flattening out the details that could have been interesting. But the film remains compelling throughout, due in large parts to the efforts of Jordan and Foxx. Jordan laces his trademark rage across a character that on the page could have read as a blandly idealized crusader, while also nailing his big Movie Star speeches and moments.

And Foxx is operating on a whole other level than we’re used to seeing from him. He’s tamping down that innate charisma and energy that’s been present even in other sad-sack roles. The lively guy is still discernible, but he’s lost under the paralysis of imprisonment, of a man so broken he’s had to turn off the ability to hope, just as a survival mechanism. His gradual thawing, and the eventual triumphant release of all that he had buried, is some of the most delicate material Foxx has ever been asked to play, and he does it superbly. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Ed (our Editor in Chief ) highlighted Just Mercy as one of his picks for empathy-driven films, and rightly so. And in a period when empathy is something wee need sorely, this this viewing couldn’t be any more timely.

I didn’t know going into the film that it was a true story, and that makes this tale of prisoners on death row, many of them there unfairly, and the young lawyer who wants to help them, even more compelling. I feel that you can’t watch this without being moved by the plight of these men, nor fail to feel racism’s sinister sting and the detrimental, irreparable harm that it causes.

This is also some of the most graceful work I’ve seen from Michael B. Jordan. Don’t get me wrong, I love Creed and Black Panther — but he’s basically playing shades of the same pissed-off firebrand in those films. His moving and subtle performance here (alongside the always reliable Jamie Foxx) makes me excited to see what other kinds of roles he is capable of portraying. (@VforVashaw)

Further reading:

Next week’s pick:

Knives Out — [4K/HDR]|[Standard]

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